Art Director at Universe


MollyGrund (Art Director at Universe)

Molly Grund is a graphic designer and art director based in Brooklyn, NY. She’s interested in optimistic technology, books, craft, and trying to have a good time.

she/her • New York, United States • May 2, 2024

What led you into design?

I really got into design through books and stories. As a kid, I loved reading and I also loved making things - collages, dioramas, writing stories and turning them into handmade books and creating fake newspapers for fantasy worlds I had. All of these endeavours involved manipulating images and texts into discrete objects as a kind of world-building exercise. As I got older and went through school I continued to be drawn to the graphic arts and eventually studied that in college.

What does a typical day look like?

I really wish I was more of a morning person but waking up is always kind of a struggle for me. I do have a dog who helps force me out of bed and the first thing I do after drinking water is take her out for a walk. I get back, have a cup of tea and breakfast, and then I sit down at my desk to do focused deep work. Over time I’ve come to know that I have the best focus between the hours of 10am-3pm, so I try to mute my Slack and messenger notifications and concentrate on work that needs the most attention for the first part of the day. 

My work comprises of individual design work as well as art direction for other designers, and the part of my brain I use to design feels as though it operates in a different gear than the part of my brain that can give useful critique and do visual analysis. So after I have my morning block of deep work time, I will switch modes and check in on the projects I need to give feedback for. I’ll also often spend this time doing ‘brand maintenance’ making sure we have the templates, components, and assets we need, updating documentation, or thinking through ideas for new projects or experiments.

In the late afternoon, my brain gets a little more fuzzy and less disciplined. So usually I take care of administrative tasks, browse the web for inspiration, gather images for mood boards, do any relevant reading, and get in some daydreaming. This is often also when I’ll have a snack and take an afternoon walk with my dog. It feels nice to end the day with mood boarding or sketching and spark some ideas to marinate over the course of the evening. 

All this being said, this is the kind of imaginary typical day that doesn’t have any interruptions (Wednesdays are like this IRL for me). Some days I have a bunch of meetings and that means I can’t really get any design work done, and I’ll use the time between meetings to take care of administrative tasks. I used to beat myself up about this but now I’ve accepted that those days will just go like that and I don’t put pressure on myself to get amazing design work done. 

What's your workstation setup?

One of my favorite big purchases I’ve made is this custom work desk. I got it made to a height so that I can work both standing and sitting, and it’s got a huge surface area where I can draw, cut big sheets of paper, spread out notebooks, or of course sit at my computer for hours. It has a big flat drawer where I can keep prints and paper and some smaller shelves for drawing materials and other tools. I try to keep it clear most of the time because I feel like it encourages me to use it more for projects that way. The purpose behind this desk was to really accommodate physical creation and experimentation, which I find easy to forget to do when designing for digital channels, and when my desk has too much real estate given over to my laptop/monitor.

Where do you go to get inspired?

Online, I love perusing, I think there are so many amazing users and channels on that site and I love the feeling of tunnelling into someone’s collection of images or links or words. I also get a lot of inspiration from reading interviews with designers, artists and writers, I guess any kind of creative person - I love reading the interviews in The Paris Review, even though I am not a writer I find those interviews are often inspiring and life-affirming. There are also a couple of now-defunct blogs that I like reading through the archives of… there’s something really earnest and simple about those sites. Some favorites - imrevolting, mondoblogo, reference library. Actually, there are a couple that are still active - evencleveland, the best time of the day… Anyway I like perusing these as sources of non-algorithmic inspiration. And, living in NYC, there are so many amazing museums and galleries to go get inspired. The Noguchi Museum is pretty much always a surefire bet for getting designers riled up… that place kills me. 

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

I recently got a library card and using the app to search every book I can borrow in all of Brooklyn was so amazing to me. I felt like I had infinite secret knowledge at my fingertips. But I don’t think that’s necessarily great design, it might just be libraries being utopian. Umm, the other day I was looking at the Tivoli Songbook and recently also Teenage Engineering’s field recorder. Both of those products I think are beautifully designed in different ways and I love that they have single-function-specific buttons and knobs. I love those for the specificity and the tactility and the fact that you don’t have to go through the infinite depths of a touchscreen interface to control them. 

Teenage Engineering field recorder
Teenage Engineering field recorder
Tivoli Songbook
Tivoli Songbook

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

Recently, my company started working on an AI component to our app - like everyone else, I know - but I’m proud of the branding work we’ve done around the new tool. We named the AI GUS and it designs your website for you. It’s really basic so far, but the branding exercise we did to develop the name and the visuals was really fun. We came up with something that feels playful, personable, and not too tech-overlordy. We got to work with a really amazing animator, Patrick Finn, on some loading animations for the tool. 

What design challenges do you face at your company?

I think with any startup, there’s a sense of urgency and quickly shifting strategies that can sometimes make it feel difficult to do slow or well-considered design work. A lot of the time it can feel like you are just reacting to the most immediate or pressing needs, and that can make it hard to hold onto the big-picture vision or to devote time to slower-growing projects. That’s definitely a muscle that I think I’ve had to build up over the years. It took a while for me to realize that, for the slower projects, I have to act as an advocate and nurturer for those to continue to get the time they need. But the challenge of a fast-paced company environment has also helped me to become less precious which I feel is easy for designers to become with our work. 

What music do you listen to while designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

I don’t know that I’m the most ambitious designer - like I’m not out here submitting to Young Guns -  so I don’t know that I can give the best advice for that specifically, but I definitely want to do good work and keep growing in my practice and improving. So for that, some of the most helpful things I’ve learned in the time I’ve been working as a designer have been… to keep learning new skills, outside and inside of graphic design, working with your hands if you can. Being creatively inspired across mediums and getting off the computer, anything to help get into a flow and be surprised by the material. I think that can help keep your work on the computer feeling fresh. And if along the way you can find mentors whose work philosophies you admire, keep in touch with those people. Also, read a lot to learn about different ways of thinking. 

I also think learning to respect and nurture your own creative practice is a huge unlock. For a long time I felt creative envy when I would hear about other designers’ creative practices… like damn, I wish I could work in a big beautiful room and do paintings and have this amazing workflow. For some reason I felt as though because my job was in tech/at the computer, I was prevented from accessing that. But at some point I realized that my creative practice is my creative practice, no matter the kind of work I’m doing. Like to some extent, I have control over how I approach any creative assignment, and if I want my practice to feel artful or intellectual or [whatever adjective I wishfully described other peoples’ practices with] I was actually able to control that. So take the things you envy and try to give them to yourself within the life and work you already have. I feel like I am still figuring that out, but I’m trying to do that. 

Anything you want to promote or plug?

Well I gotta promote my company’s app, which is called Universe… it’s a pretty freeform visual website builder. So if you’re interested build something and send it my way! You can really do a lot of stuff with it and get super creative. 

Also, in my free time, I've been trying to make books, like by hand. So if you have something you want to work on hit me up!